Officials hope winter fades before whitetail feed runs out

  • Updated: March 25, 2014 - 8:43 PM

The emergency feeding program has reached roughly 16,000 deer. Weather the next two weeks will be key for budget reasons.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers will have distributed about 660,000 pounds of feed for wild deer by this weekend under Minnesota’s first emergency deer feeding program in 18 years.

The feed is reaching about 15,000 to 16,000 deer at nearly 1,000 sites in 13 permit areas of northern Minnesota, where the Department of Natural Resources allowed the program, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association. The group is handling the distribution.

He said about $118,000 of the $170,000 allocated has been spent, and he’s hopeful there will be enough feed to distribute until snow begins to disappear and deer can find browse. The money comes from a DNR account funded by 50 cents from every deer license sold.

“It really depends on what the next two weeks of weather looks like,’’ Johnson said. “It will be real close.’’ He said his group will decide next week whether to ask the DNR for more money.

Meanwhile, Johnson said that beginning this weekend the group will only distribute feed to volunteers who already have been getting feed weekly at the distribution sites in Esko, Moose Lake, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, International Falls, Cook, Wright and Virginia, and won’t give any to others seeking to begin feeding deer.

“Some people probably won’t be happy with that, but we want to have enough feed to take care of the deer we’ve already been feeding,’’ Johnson said.

He said people are reporting finding dead and stressed deer in the region, but that deer that have been coming to the feeding sites appear to be in better condition.

Northwest deer numbers

The Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge recently conducted its annual aerial large mammal survey to get population estimates for deer and moose. And the numbers for deer weren’t good.

The deer population estimate for the refuge and adjacent state lands declined dramatically from last year. Officials counted 600 deer — a density of 5.6 deer per square mile, well below the goal of 15 to 20 deer per square mile and likely the result of a tough winter last year. Officials said the 2014 hunting season framework for the local permit area will reflect the need to increase the deer population.

Meanwhile, officials counted 46 moose, which is similar to the past three to four years, suggesting the population, at least for now, has stabilized.

DOUG SMITH

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